DIG: What is the most important question in the book? Why does God pose questions like this? Humanly speaking, why did Yonah have every right to be angry? Why should we be pleased that God is slow to anger? Why did Jonah sit outside the city? What was his hope? What kind of shelter did he build? What did this have to do with Israel’s history? What three things does God provide Yonah? Why? What do the vine, worm and hot sun reveal about the LORD? About Jonah? How does the worm in this seventh scene point to Jonah as a type of Christ? Compare Elijah’s encounter with Baal-worship in First Kings 18:20-40 with Jonah’s relation to these pagans. What peak religious experiences, depressions, provisions and rebuke from God do they have in common with each other? With you? What does this scene tell us about God? How would you end this dangling story? Why? What do you think the disgruntled prophet did with his second chance? What does scene seven as a whole say about God?
REFLECT: Do you have a pouting-place? Are you disappointed or upset with God right now? How so? What is the importance of God’s question in 4:4 to you personally? As a result of your divine intervention, has God revealed to you a distance between His heart and yours? How so? Are there any misplaced priorities that have taken place in your life lately? What made this disparity clear to you? How do you feel about the idea that God may allow hardship to relay spiritual instruction? Why do you think the Enemy of souls may want to disguise difficulty used by YHVH as punishment sent by God? If you’ve had a string of your own difficulties, have you attributed them to ADONAI or to the Adversary? How have these instances made you feel? Have they drawn you closer to the Lord, or driven you away? Why? When have you tried limiting the Lord’s mercy to others? To yourself? Who does God want you to show mercy to this week?
Short description of scene seven: ADONAI initiates the action in this final scene, this time with a question directed to the disgruntled prophet. But the LORD wanted Jonah to continue his prophetic ministry, so in a mild and loving rebuke, He simply asked him: Have you any right to be angry in light of the mercy I have shown you by bringing you back to life so you could fulfill My commission (4:4)? Surely God’s servant could trust the Judge of all the earth to do right (Genesis 18:25). Jonah, however, was in no mood to respond. He refused to recognize any suggestion that he might be in the wrong, and he shamelessly persisted in justifying himself.97
He took up a new position east of the city where he built a booth to provide some shade. Again, the LORD God takes the initiative by providing a plant, a worm, and a wind; Jonah reacts with another death wish (4:6-8). The story concludes with a question-and-answer exchange between God and Jonah (4:9) and then with a thirty-nine-word speech by the LORD (4:10-11), balancing Jonah’s thirty-nine-word speech in 4:2. The end of the story links with the beginning, picking up the theme: Nineveh, the great city. The closing question invites Jonah, and us, to become involved by answering.98
Commentary on scene seven: After hearing Jonah’s whiny tirade, there was dead silence – a pause just long enough to wonder what was going to happen next. But now, the short pause has ended and the silence is broken with a word from the LORD. For the first time we listen in on a conversation between God and Yonah. His question: Have you any right to be angry (4:4)? is the most important question in the book. YHVH wants to know if Jonah’s anger results in any good. Divine inquiries are never for God’s benefit. He knows the answer to every question (Genesis 3:6-11; 4:3-10; John 6:5-6). He poses questions that we may realize and agree on the truth of the answer. Answering God’s questions requires a soul search that may unearth heart issues we did not formerly recognize, thereby helping us to see in ourselves what God seeks to uncover. The question God asked Jonah is the same Spirit that whispers to us as we teeter on the verge of falling headlong into a mound of anger. After all the moping and fury, we face this same simple question.99
Humanly speaking, Yonah did have a reason to be angry. After all, Assyria was Israel’s archenemy, and preaching to them could possibly keep them from being destroyed if they repented. In 722 BC, about thirty-eight years after Jonah preached to Nineveh, the army of Assyria pillaged the northern kingdom of Isra’el, and laid siege to Samaria. The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cutah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in place of the Israelites in the cities of Samaria. They took over Samaria and lived in her towns (Second Kings 17:24). The Assyrians treated their conquered peoples differently than the Babylonians would later in history. Whereas the Babylonians took the best and the brightest back to Babylon and killed the rest, the Assyrians brought their own citizens to the conquered area, intermarried with them and therefore assimilated them into Assyrian culture. This is, of course, what Yonah had feared would happen. Eventually the Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah viewed their northern brethren as inferior half-breeds, despised them, and wanted nothing to do with them (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Gw – The Parable of the Good Samaritan).
As previously mentioned (Az – Jonah’s Anger and the LORD’s Mercy), Yonah said God was slow to anger. Aren’t we glad that’s the case? If He were inclined to angry outbursts, all of us would be suffering every moment of the day. Every form of solace shows us that ADONAI has a tendency to bestow kindness. Knowing that the holy, all-powerful God could be angry and yet is slow to yield to it should make us reconsider any anger we feel when betrayed, belittled, or just ignored. This should cause us to think about two things: First, it should cause us to question any anger we feel toward God. Knowing He could and should be angry with us, and yet, chooses not to be, should challenge us to rethink our position. Secondly, when we realize the gap between ADONAI’s character and ours, we should consider our great need for God’s assistance in molding us into His image (Romans 8:29; First Corinthians 15:49 and Colossians 3:10).
Since, from a human perspective, we may feel justified in our anger towards another or even toward HaShem, the only way we can ever be slow to anger is if the Ruach HaKodesh compels us in that direction. The LORD gave us His Spirit for many reasons – companionship, comfort, fellowship, guidance, and counsel to name a few. But He also gave us His Ruach for empowerment. As believers, we should be empowered to live beyond our normal human capabilities. While we will never achieve perfection in any of God’s attributes, we can experience the work of the Holy Spirit in ever increasing measure. In other words, we can be sanctified. We can and should expect to see the fruit of God’s work in our lives as He changes us daily (Galatians 5:16-23).
But instead of answering ADONAI, Yonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city (4:5a). God tried to engage His prophet in his distress, but Jonah wasn’t ready to talk (He does answer the question when it is asked again in 4:9). Cain was asked the same question in Genesis 4:6. He didn’t answer either, but instead went out and killed his brother Abel (see my commentary on Genesis Bj – Your Brother’s Blood Cries Out to Me from the Ground). Jonah was at a similar point of moral decision in his relationship with God.
Yonah hoped that the LORD would still destroy the city in spite of the Ninevites’ repentance. So just in case that happened, the reluctant prophet did not want to be in the city, of course, so he went to a hill on the east, outside of the city, to wait out the forty days (3:4). He waited to see if the Ninevites repentance and God’s mercy would endure. There he made himself a shelter (Hebrew: sukkah)to protect his bleached skin, which was no doubt painfully sensitive to the sun. This shelter was reminiscent of the shelter built in the desert by the Israelites as they wandered for forty years. ADONAI commanded that these shelters be built every year as a remembrance (the feast of Booths or sukkoth) of God’s provision for His people during those years of wilderness wandering (Exodus 23:16, 34:22; Leviticus 23:39-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-16). So Jonah sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city from a distance (4:5b). When he thought that God might destroy the wicked Ninevites it probably brought a smile to his face. Yes, there was still a chance that strict justice would be inflicted.
A picture lesson: Then ADONAI God provided an object lesson in order to demonstrate His mercy and compassion. Notice that at each of the crucial junctures in the book, the expanded title ADONAI God is used (1:9, 2:1, 2:6 and here). Perched there like a vulture on the edge of the city awaiting its destruction, the sun beat down mercilessly on the disgruntled prophet. Sitting in his booth, the roof probably provided little protection. He must have been miserable baking under the sun’s glaring rays. So ADONAI God provided a leafy plant (4:6a). It is interesting that, in this very short book, the word provided is used four times to tell us about special acts of God. First God provided a whale, then He provided a plant, then He provided a worm, and finally ADONAI provided a scorching east wind (Jonah 1:17, 4:6, 7-8), all for special purposes related to Jonah’s calling and ministry.100
God provided a leafy plant (4:6b). The plant (Hebrew: qiyqalown) is apparently hard to identify, but the Hebrew name is similar to an Egyptian name for the castor-oil plant, known for its rapid growth, tall height, and large leaves. God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah in one night to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort of the suns’ rays. Whether it would grow this rapidly in one night, however, is very doubtful. More likely, it was a miracle plant and Jonah was extremely happy about the plant (4:6c). Yonah, incidentally, used the same word when he described himself as extremely unhappy (which I translated: furious), at God’s decision to spare Nineveh (4:1). In fact, the same Hebrew word gadol, is also used to describe Nineveh as a great city, the storm as a great storm, and the whale as a great whale (Jonah 1:2, 1:12 and 1:17). Jonah apparently liked to use it. For that matter, all his experiences were so out of the ordinary as to require superlatives to describe them. He was furious about the divine protection given to others but excited and thrilled to receive a bit of his own divine protection.
Now I admit I’m not the one to judge Jonah. I’m keenly aware of how a change in temperature can put a smile back on my face. I can’t stand being cold, and when I’m warm, I suppose I can be just as happy as Yonah was with his plant. So I can relate with such a simple change causing me to compare it with my lack of concern about things of more significance. Divine interruptions have a way of making me more aware of my inconsistent heart. When I’m excited about my own needs being met but not nearly so anxious to see God’s purposes served, it’s apparent I’ve got some work to do. Divine interruptions often expose my lack of sensitivity to His purposes and absorption with myself. When the insignificant makes my heart pound while the significant gets a shrug, it’s amazingly clear that I’ve got a long way to go.
The phrase to ease his discomfort literally means to deliver him from his calamity. The Hebrew language here invites a three-way comparison between Jonah’s first calamity in the storm, Nineveh’s pending calamity, and Yonah’s discomfort with the sun. He was extremely happy and grateful about his resurrection from the dead. He was also extremely happy about his deliverance from the discomfort of the sun. Now you would think that it would have softened Jonah’s heart toward the Ninevites. Once again ADONAI showed divine favor to Yonah, and yet he was hesitant to extend mercy to others. YHVH uses this contrast in His final question to His chosen prophet.
Are we willing to extend grace and mercy to others as the LORD has extended it to us? When God graciously takes care of our needs, when ADONAI is there through our discomfort, or calms our anxieties, our first inclination should be to extend grace and mercy to others. His grace should make us more gracious to others, and His mercy should likewise make us more merciful (Second Corinthians 1:3-4). How often do you see this displayed inside or outside the congregations of God?
But the LORD . . . Here is another But, and it’s now the Grandmaster’s move. God is sovereign and He saw to it that Jonah’s extreme happiness about the shade lasted for only one day. At dawn the next day Elohim sent a worm to attack the plant so that it withered (4:7 GWT). The castor oil plant is said to both grow quickly and deteriorate quickly, but again this seems to have been a miraculous worm to destroy it that fast. The emphasis here is not on ADONAI’s love and mercy but on His disciplining activity. God had a special lesson for His prophet to learn.
Type 7. The worm was distinctive in another sense as well, although this could hardly have been obvious to Jonah himself at that time. It was known as “the scarlet worm” (Hebrew: towla), as being the source of the red fluid used in those days to produce beautiful crimson and scarlet cloth. In fact, the same word was actually translated “crimson” in Isaiah 1:18, speaking of the sins being “red like crimson.” The strikingly significant thing about this word is that it is used prophetically as applied to Christ on the cross in the marvelous 22nd Psalm. There He says, “But I am a worm” (Psalm 22:6). Not just any worm, but the scarlet worm, whose blood-red fluid emerging from the body of the female worm as she dies in giving birth to her young, points eloquently to the shed blood of Yeshua Messiah as He died to bring us life (Romans 5:8).101
With the shade from the leaves of the plant suddenly gone, Jonah was again subjected to the searing heat of the Assyrian desert. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. Yonah is now completely worn out – he was absurdly joyful over the provision of the plant, and now too, like all his religious aspiration, had withered. The LORD had given and now the LORD had taken away (Job 1:21).102 Jonah almost had sunstroke and was extremely “faint”. He used the same root word as in verse 7 for how the worm “attacked” the plant to indicate the blazing of the “scorching” east wind. Yonah felt he might wither under the hot sun just as the plant had withered because of the worm. Not only had he been sent on a mission he didn’t want, and was disgusted at the outcome, but he couldn’t even find a comfortable place to recuperate.
Yonah was not only emotionally spent he was also physically tormented. Nothing seemed to be going his way. He was so distraught that for a second time (4:3) he considered death to be more suitable than life,103 and said: It would be better for me to die than to live (4:8). The encounters with the plant, the worm and the wind had not taught him anything, and He has not moved beyond his wish to die. In three verses Yonah moved from anger to happiness, and then back to depression. By then he was ready to listen to ADONAI again.
A verbal lesson: The book concludes with a question for Jonah about God’s motivation. HYVH came to Jonah and asked: Is it right for you to be angry about the plant (4:9)? The terse inquiry, like the pricking of conscience, meets with self-justification: “I am right to be angry!” Yeshua depicted the same attitude in the elder son of the parable, who resented the joyous reception given to his wayward brother, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving away for you,” he said to his father, “and never disobeyed your orders” (Luke 15:28-30). The last remark was not true of Yonah, but both men were preoccupied with vindicating themselves. They were unshakably convinced of their own grounds for doubt. But Jonah’s last words were quite literally death: It would be better for me to die than to live (4:8). In questioning and quarreling with God he loses sight of all that makes life worth living.104
And then with a thirty-nine-word speech (in Hebrew) that balanced Yonah’s thirty-nine-word speech (in Hebrew) in 4:2, ADONAI ends the book by teaching Jonah the essential lesson he had been missing all along. He was not only a God of absolute holiness and perfect justice who does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7b), but also One who was maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin (Exodus 34:7a). He declared: But you have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight (4:10). Like Abraham, Moses and Jeremiah, the disgruntled prophet protested to ADONAI. His complaint camein 4:1 when the Ninevites repented (3:10). It’s as if the Lord said, “Let’s analyze this anger of yours, Jonah . . . It represents your concern over the plant that you loved so much – but what did it really mean to you? Your attachment to it couldn’t have been very deep, for it was here one day and gone the next. Your concern was dictated by self-interest, not by genuine love. You never had the devotion of a gardener. If you feel as bad as you say you do, what would you expect the real Gardner to feel like, who tended the plant and watched it grow only to see it wither and die? This is how I feel about Nineveh, only much more so. All those people, all those animals . . . I made them. I have cherished them all these years. Nineveh has cost Me no end of effort, and it means the world to Me. Your pain is nothing compared to Mine when I think about their destruction.”105
Reflection on what scene seven as a whole says about ADONAI: The last verse offers us a peek into the heart of God when He said: And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left - and also many animals’ (4:11)? For the second time ADONAI asked Yonah a question. Is the Creator obliged to ask Jonah’s permission in order to exercise His mercy? The ironic question is intended to bring Yonah to a repentant frame of mind. Does Jonah really want to find fault with his God for being too gracious and loving?106
If this is a reference to children who are too young to know the right hand from their left hand, and therefore innocent of sin and undeserving of death, then the total population of the Assyrian triangle (made up of Nineveh and her satellite cities of Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen) would have been around 600,000 people. ADONAI’s concern was for all the people for whom both God and Jonah ministered. God labored through His grace and Jonah labored through his experiences. To the first question, Yonah walked off in a huff and refused to answer (4:4-5). This time the lack of an immediate response leaves us dangling.
Jonah refrains from adding anything that might detract from the force of the question with which God concludes the book. Whether or not Yonah was convinced, and what happened to him afterwards, are unimportant matters compared with the lesson that is so convincingly taught. But if the rebel prophet had not come around, such a book would never have been written! Jonah had no right to God’s favor, so who was he to deny it to anyone else? The answer to the Grandmaster’s question in 4:11 undoubtedly ended up being, “Yes,” and that “yes” expresses a unique emphasis in the book of Jonah. The entire Bible tells the story of God’s love for the insiders, the righteous of the TaNaKh and the New Covenant saints. But the book of Jonah has a special concern for ADONAI’s love for the outsiders, the people of the world – and even for their animals.107
When you face trying circumstances please know you can run to a secret place: He hides me in the shelter of His presence when there is trouble; he will keep me safe from those who conspire against me. He keeps me hidden in His tent far from accusing tongues. He sets me high on a rock (Psalm 27:5 and 31:20 NLT). Like the eye of the storm, peace prevails in the presence of ADONAI, even when chaos arises all around. God has a sacred place of immunity from anything outside His will for us. He will meet you there, offering you the best of Himself and His purposes. Consider your life circumstances as divine lessons. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see what He may be teaching you. Then open your heart to receive and retain those lessons.108